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The Box Office Buster (Dec. 15-17)

by Erik Childress

This weekend, Warner Bros. fell victim to one of the classic blunders. We all know the most famous is to never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is this: Never go into any movie season with a film set in Africa if you expect audiences to show up. It’s a sad truth, but even those with Oscar potential like The Constant Gardener, Hotel Rwanda and Tsotsi don’t pull in the big dollars. Blood Diamond tried to buck the trend by turning the plight of the people into an action film with a big moviestar, but the fact seems to remain that films set within that continent have people thinking “message first, movie second.” But as with all tragedies in our world, they are nearly forgotten about by the time the next one comes around. By that account we have a new Will Smith film opening this weekend, but also two literary adaptations with varying degrees of popularity; one written for children and the other written by a child.

E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is about as perfect a children’s book as has ever been written. Paramount’s new live action adaptation is about the best that could possibly be made. And the holidays is about as perfect a time to release it too. The last ten well-known adaptations of family-oriented literature (both classic and modern) released in this time period include three Lord of the Rings films, three Harry Potter films as well as Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and the first film in the forthcoming Chronicles of Narnia series. Eight of these ten films grossed $260 million or more. The two stragglers started with $23.3 (The Polar Express) & $30 million (Lemony Snicket) but went on to respectfully gross, $162.7 and $118.6 million. These numbers all bode well for Charlotte, which can easily be argued as having been read by more kids and adults alike then those last two. One of many reasons I picked it as the film to beat this holiday season at the box office. Happy Feet is getting close to peaking and has been coasting as the only family film in the marketplace since its opening. It’s likely to continue doing well through the two-week Christmas vacation period and assuming that Fox’s Night at the Museum is as lame as director Shawn Levy’s resume (Just Married and the remakes of Cheaper by the Dozen & The Pink Panther), Charlotte’s Web should be able to cruise through a remaining schedule of the PG-rated Rocky Balboa & We Are Marshall, plus the adult-oriented Oscar bait (Dreamgirls, The Good Shepherd, The Good German, Letters from Iwo Jima, Children of Men) well into January. I’m expecting about a $31.4 million beginning towards the eventual quest for $200 million.

Hoping to ride that Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Narnia gravy train is the first chapter in the Inheritance Trilogy. Yeah, BABY! Wait a minute. What the hell is an Inheritance Trilogy? At first, I thought someone made a documentary of my semi-annual Friday night marathon of Easy Money, Brewster’s Millions and Greedy. But, alas Universal has nothing to do with this film; a cautionary tale about how not to spell the word Dragon. Fox’s Eragon is based on the first book in the series written by 18 year-old, Christopher Paolini, and much to my surprise I ran into a guy in my bowling league who had actually read it. Picking his brain about the Tolkien-esque story which I got to see approximately 12 minutes of selected scenes from the 100-minute film (including the villain’s vanquish), it seems he was already disappointed with what I had described. Wish I could tell him more but most of the Chicago media won’t get to see Eragon until Thursday night. While it doesn’t seem to technically before a complete hide-job from the critics as other markets are getting to see it earlier, other times this tactic has been pulled in Chicago include Deck the Halls, The Sentinel and Lindsay Lohan’s Just My Luck. And when you’re done doing that math, consider the recent spate of dragon-related offerings. 1996’s Dragonheart started with $15 million, ended up with $51.3. Reign of Fire posted comparable numbers with a $15.6 start and $43 million finish in the summer of 2002. 2000’s holiday release of Dungeons & Dragons grossed a total of just a little more than Dragonheart’s finale, so let’s not anoint Eragon as the next great “event” franchise no matter how sexy a dragon Rachel Weisz might make. Start it off with about $13.3 million.

Chris Gardner probably made that much this very morning. But Sony’s The Pursuit of Happyness is not about his success, in that the film doesn’t have much of a payoff. It’s about the struggle that this Rubik’s Cube-solvin’, bone scanner-sellin’, self-proclaimed genius endured in order to become the next Gordon Gekko or Sherman McCoy of the ‘80s. As I await the quote that announces it as Jeffrey Lyons’ #1 film of the year, the film has sleeper potential written all over it – if that term can even apply to one of the biggest moviestars in the world. This isn’t a Men in Black, Bad Boys or even a Hitch though. This is Will Smith going Oscar hunting as he did with The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali, which are the only two films in a stretch going back to the first Bad Boys in 1995 that haven’t grossed over $110 million. With support coming in from Oprah and any daytime talk show that loves a good story, that trend is likely to be busted here. It’s going to be one of the season’s leggier efforts as word-of-mouth spreads from those who don’t need their inspirational stories to be that inspired. The campaign for Smith to get a Best Actor nomination will be flooding the awards debate and he’s likely going to get it. He’s already got the money, but this one should make Sony happy with a modest $15.5 million start. Or as Chris Gardner would call it – Monday.

The holdovers will have to give way to the newbies this week. 1-2-3 should go the way of the new releases with Apocalypto getting up over $28 million in its first 10 days, The Holiday approaching $25 and Blood Diamond getting to within $116 million of my holiday preview prediction. I have no excuse other than banking on DiCaprio’s recent track record. Damn you, Africa! Happy Feet will make Warner Bros. happier as it approaches $150 million. Casino Royale will be over $137 million with maybe one more week in the top ten for Sony to milk some cash into making it the most successful domestic Bond film in history. New Line’s The Nativity Story will be within $350 million of The Passion of the Christ and Déjà vu will be having its swan song on the list with nearly $58 million, or nearly precisely my call on the holiday movie preview. Which is more than I can say about my Blood Diamond call. Damn you, Africa!

Box Office Top Ten Predictions (Dec. 15-17)
1. Charlotte's Web - $31.4

2. The Pursuit of Happyness - $15.5

3. Eragon - $13.3

4. Apocalypto - $8.6

5. The Holiday - $8.2

6. Happy Feet - $7.4

7. Casino Royale - $5.7

8. Blood Diamond - $4.8

9. The Nativity Story - $3.7

10. Déjà vu - $3.6


NEXT WEEK'S WIDE OPENERS


HOLIDAY BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS (Nov. 1)
(Stats through Dec. 10)
1. Charlotte’s Web ($205.8 million)
2. Happy Feet ($174.3 million) ($137.9 million to date)
3. Blood Diamond ($131.3 million) ($8.6 million to date)
4. Night at the Museum ($125.6 million)
5. The Pursuit of Happyness ($119.2 million)
6. Casino Royale ($103.8 million) ($129.0 million to date)
7. Dreamgirls ($90.7 million)
8. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause ($83.5 million) ($77.1 million to date)
9. The Holiday ($79.3 million) ($12.7 million to date)
10. We Are Marshall ($74.6 million)
11. Eragon ($65.9 million)
12. The Nativity Story ($60 million) ($15.9 million to date)
13. Déjà Vu ($58.2 million) ($52.9 million to date)
14. The Good Shepherd ($55.2 million)
15. Borat ($54.8 million) ($120.2 million to date)
16. Flushed Away ($48.7 million) ($61.2 million to date)
17. Rocky Balboa ($46.1 million)
18. Deck the Halls ($45.7 million) ($30.1 million to date)
19. Stranger than Fiction ($37.8 million) ($39.2 million to date)
20. Apocalypto ($36.7 million) ($15.0 million to date)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
($30-$39 million)
The Good German
Bobby ($10.4 million to date)
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny ($8.0 million to date)

($20-$29 million)
Black Christmas
A Good Year ($7.3 million to date)
Babel ($17.6 million to date)
The History Boys ($510,000 to date)
Children of Men

($10-$19 million)
DOA: Dead or Alive (Taken out of the holiday season)
Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj ($3.8 million to date)
The Fountain ($9.3 million to date)
The Return ($7.7 million to date)
Unaccompanied Minors ($5.8 million to date)
Fast Food Nation ($905,718 to date)

($5-$10 million)
Turistas ($5.8 million to date)
Let’s Go to Prison ($4.6 million to date)
Harsh Times ($3.3 million to date)
For Your Consideration ($4.8 million to date)
Venus
Pan’s Labyrinth
Factory Girl
Breaking and Entering
Notes on a Scandal

($5 million or less)
Volver ($2.3 million to date)
Copying Beethoven ($256,803 to date)
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus ($188,697 to date)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer



(Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo)


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2031
originally posted: 12/12/06 10:39:19
last updated: 12/12/06 10:41:25
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